Monday, December 14, 2009

Carnataca Sangeetham and Me

I am not from a very musically oriented family or anything. My dad dabbled a little in Mridangam (apparently, he learned from Kumbakkonam Rajappa Iyer, who was Sakkottai Rangu Iyengar's sishyar), as also a little in the guitar. Unfortunately, since he started learning quite late (abt 30 or so), he couldn't really progress very far (his Guru apparently used to say - "Ganesa...unakku nanna varudhu, aana speed pathaadhu. Veral apdiye velayaadanum. Ange paaru-7 vayasu payyan, romba chinna payana irukkaane maami'nu sonna kooda kekka maattengara avan amma - "chumma vandhu okkaarattum mama," apdinu solli kaasu koduthuttu kozhandhaiya vittuttu poidra. Andha kozhandhaiya paaru, mridangatha madila vechukka kooda mudiyala adhaala :D"). 2 cousins from my dad's side (both girls) learnt the violin. Shucks, just as I write this do I realize that one of them is a Music teacher/professor in a college or something in Chennai. :O Revelation.

Anyway, coming back, being from a normal-yet-nothing-special Tambram family, I had my usual push towards Carnatic music, which I stoutly opposed. My PSBB days were more attracted towards physical exploits (despite my not-entirely-conducive-to-physical-activities appearance, back then) - come Summer, it invariably used to be one of the Cricket, Yoga or Gymnastics camps that I used to join. I should especially be credited for my determination because my cousin (the only one in my family who is in my age-group) had started going for Carnatic Vocal classes (pah...indha parents irukkaale!).

So now that it has been fairly established that I had no childhood gift for Carnataca Sangeetham, my parents were quite surprised when they discovered after coming to visit me here, that now, after 24 years of my life, I was able to enjoy some Carnatic songs (for Carnatic reasons also), talk about a few raagas (2, to be specific :P) and appreciate & admire Carnatic musicians (something I had always done, despite my relative non-affiliation with the field) in an informed manner (if very minute). "Enna da, unakkum gnyaanam porandhudutha? Engerndhu idhellam aaramiche?" Sad though, I was, to disappoint them, I reassured them saying I was still the same old gnyaana soonyam wrt Carnatic music, and that there were other reasons that I had consciously started trying to pick up bits-and-pieces of Carnataca Sangeetham.

For me, Carnataca Sangeetham has always been a prime form of expression of love & devotion to the Lord. Being a relatively religious guy, I had always felt deep respect for Carnatic musicians, while also feeling bad that I'd missed out on a great way to worship the Lord. My regard for Carnatic music was also greatly influenced by such divine souls as Smt. MS Subbulakshmi [aah, how her name is one of the first to pop-up, right?], Smt. DK Pattammaal, Shri. Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Shri. Madurai Somu, Shri. Seergazhi Govindarajan among others. It probably also helped that I am a Sama Vedi. ;-) Over the last few years, however, my admiration took a quantum leap with increased knowledge about a few other factors such as the amount of dedication & effort required to even be half-successful as a Carnatic musician and the amount of Maths present in the art. That's also about the time one of my juniors from college and a close friend started learning the violin from an IIT professor he was doing his Master's under, whom I had introduced him to. Somehow, there were a few exchanges between us, (with him being the primary contributor) and before we knew, we'd started something of a mini-group where we'd discuss & exchange (predominantly) Carnatic compositions. The group consisted mostly of people who were amateurs and had some knowledge either in singing or an instrument, with me obviously being the outsider, with almost no exposure to serious Carnatic stuff. A lot of times, I'd just read through the discussions without really being able to grasp much, but I did make it a point to read though.

It's about a year now since I've been part of the group now, and though I cannot lay claims to being a serious connoisseur of Carnataca Sangeetham, I'm quite enjoying what little I've learnt. Tangibly, I can more-or-less identify two stunners - Thodi & Reethigowla.
Thodi - I can specifically remember from when Thodi got stuck on me - Roopa rendering "Gangai Karai Mannan" in Superstar Global. I was blown away from the first time I saw it. Not that I hadn't listened to the original by Daas Ettaan, but that was waaay back in my Carnatic timeline. Also, this raaga was quite distinct and I understand that it is one of the few raagas which can be identified within the first few notes itself.
Reethigowla - Well, this was since Kangal Irandal, actually. :-) The song initially irritated me, I don't know why - I really liked it, but somehow, I didn't like it. Not sure if the accusations against James Vasanthan of copying were responsible, but I tried to block listening to the song as much as I could, but eventually gave in (much like Harry Potter :D). And then, Chinna Kannan Azhaikkiraan and Thalaiyai Kuniyum Thaamaraiye came by...and Reethigowla was here to stay. And finally, Azhagaana Rakshasiye revealed itself in all its crowning Rahman glory to me. Just as I type this, I realize I had very similar feelings to this song also - there existed genuine appreciation of the song in me, but there also existed some amount of dislike of the song. Coincidence, I wonder? Oh, and a good friend & one of the carnatically senior-most members of our group, Maythini, brilliantly described the raaga in this comment of hers in Gradwolf's post. I couldn't help but nod away in agreement.

The Raja'ness...
Another wonderful thing to have happened as a result of my slightly increased Carnaticisation is my amazement at the greatness of (in the words of Karthik, my raaga-identifier) "one of the greatest composers of music since Thyagaraja & Bach", (though not yet in their league) Isaignani Ilaiyaraaja. I mean, his music has such a heavy dose of Carnatic raagas that it requires a separate study in itself. One of my favourite pastimes these days is identifying songs with same/similar raagas. This is not something I do by exploring songs in youtube, but random songs just come to my mind, and then other similarly-raagaa'd songs pop up out of the blue. Here are a few similarities I found out by this random reminiscence. (Disclaimer: My only verifier for these songs is Karthik, so the accuracy of these similarities is solely attributed to him :D) -
  1. Oora Therinjikitten and Bhagavan Saranam 
  2. Alaipaayuthey Kanna and Kalyana Then Nila 
  3. Hava Nagila/Misirlou and Engeyum Eppodhum (which I initially thought was Raja sir's, learnt from SK that it is MSV's)
  4. Aboorva Sagotharargal Sad theme, Thenpaandi Cheemayile and Kaadhodu dhaan Naan paaduven (by MSV, sung by LR Easwari)
  5. Poongatru and Valaiyosai 
  6. Thalaivar's ulti-romantic Kaadhalin Deepam Ondru and Nilaave Vaa 
  7. Akkarai Cheemai Azhaginile and Sangeetha Megam (which, IMHO, has one of the best opening pieces of music for any song)
Ok, that's about it for now, and I know there is a good chance I may have been way off mark in many cases, but even if I was wrong in finding similarities (specifically based on Raagas), I've been able to appreciate all these songs much much more now. Not to mention my realization of Ilaiyaraja's greatness. Obviously, I belong to the Rahman era, and his greatness was easier to realize and relate to. (Talking about Rahman, I felt there might be some link between these two - Maanoottu Mandhaiyile and Kathirikka.) I've to go a long way before this 'sub-conscious identification of similarities-in-raagas' syndrome hits me with Rahman as input.

So there I am, in my Carnatic Chronology so far. It's been intimidating & depressing at times (simply because of the magnitude, among a zillion other things), but thoroughly enjoyable, enlightening & engrossing. I'm not sure how long or how far I'll go in this pursuit, but it's been one fulfilling experience so far. :-)